Red Sea Film Festival’s Main Competition Amplifies Powerful New Voices From Middle East, Africa, Asia

The main competition of the 2nd edition of the Red Sea Film Festival – the Red Sea: Features Competition – underlines the fest’s ambition to celebrate pioneering works from filmmakers in the Arab region, Asia and Africa.

Oliver Stone presides the jury, whose other members include Palestinian actor Ali Suleiman (“Paradise Now”), Egyptian star Nelly Karim (“The Blue Elephant”), Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania (Oscar nominee “The Man Who Sold His Skin”), and Georgian director Levan Koguashvili (“Blind Dates”).

The 15 titles include nine films from the Middle East and North Africa region (of which six are from Middle East and three from North Africa), two films from Sub-Saharan Africa, and four films from Asia. They are directed by four women and 11 men. The competition includes two world premieres, four MENA premieres and one Arab premiere.

“Before Now and Then” – Indonesian helmer Kamila Andini’s third feature set in 1960s Indonesia, where the influential Mr. Darga has a bullying attitude toward his much younger wife Nana, who puts up with the situation because he saved her after she escaped from the authorities by entering the jungle with a baby strapped to her body. During post-production it won the CJ ENM Award at Busan’s 2021 Asian Project Market Awards. Had its world premiere at Berlin where Basuki won Silver Bear for best supporting performance. The pic is repped by Wild Bunch and won best film, director, cinematography and performance at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

“Childless Village” (MENA premiere) – Iranian director Reza Jamali’s pic about an elderly filmmaker (Behrouz Allahverdizadeh) who tried to shoot a documentary 20 years before this film takes place, in a remote Azeri village where the women, who were all childless, were presumed to be sterile. To preserve their dignity, the women burnt the footage, but two decades later, it is discovered that the men were infertile. Pic had its world premiere at the Critics’ Pick sidebar of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Jamali’s debut feature, “Old Men Never Die” (2019), won the Spirit of Asia Award at the Tokyo Film Festival.

“Dirty Difficult Dangerous” (MENA premiere) – Lebanese director Wissam Charaf’s second film, a love story about two refugees living in Beirut. The film is supported by the Red Sea Fund. It was the opening film of the official competition of the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Europa Cinemas Prize. Charraf’s debut feature, “Heaven Sent” (2016), was selected in the ACID program in Cannes. His most recent short, “Unforgettable Memory of a Friend” (2018), was pre-selected for best short film for France’s César awards in 2020.

“Hanging Gardens” – Iraqi director Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji’s experimental pic about a young Baghdad garbage picker who finds a discarded American sex doll. Pic is supported by the Arab Culture Fund. Screened in Venice’s Horizons Extra sidebar.

“Harka” (MENA premiere) – Tunisian helmer Lotfy Nathan’s debut fiction feature inspired by the story of the tragic self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid in 2010, which triggered the Jasmine Revolution. Screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, where Adam Bessa won best actor. Nathan’s first feature, documentary “12 O’Clock Boys,” won the HBO Emerging Artists award, and was selected in more than 50 festivals, including SXSW and Sundance LA.

“Last Film Show” – A tale about director Pan Nalin’s boyhood, that becomes an ode to cinema. India’s official entry for the Academy Awards. Nalin is an acclaimed Indian filmmaker whose previous films include “Samsara,” “Valley of Flowers” and “Angry Indian Goddesses.” “Last Film Show” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“The Last Queen” – Algerian helmer Damien Ounouri’s swashbuckling epic, about an attempt to liberate Algiers from Spanish occupation, involving pirate Aroudj Barbarossa. Spoken in old Algerian Arabic before the French influence on the language. A co-production between Algeria, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It screened in the Venice Days sidebar at Venice and in Filmfest Hamburg.

“Mountain Onion” (MENA premiere) – Kazakhstani director Eldar Shibanov follows up from his 2018 Venice-playing short “Sex, Fear and Hamburgers” with a colorful feelgood odyssey about 11-year-old Jabai and his sister, Saniya, who set off on a quest from their small village in Kazakhstan to China, to obtain some “Gold Viagra” to help their father become a “strong man” and reconquer his unfaithful wife. The pic played in Venice’s Biennale College Cinema sidebar.

“Next Sohee” – South Korean helmer July Jung’s feature is about a troubled high-school student Sohee trying to make sense of life in a world that just seems to be looking for cheap labor. The pic is inspired by a real-life suicide. Screened in Cannes Critics’ Week where it received a seven-minute standing ovation. Also screened at the Fantasia Film Festival, where it won the best director award.

“Nezouh” (Arab premiere) – Sophomore outing from Syrian director Soudate Kaadan, starring well-known Syrian actors Samer el Masri and Kinda Allouch. It clinched the Audience Award at Venice Film Festival this year. Set in war-torn Damascus, the pic offers an allegorical tale of female emancipation, as 14-year-old Zeina discovers the beauty of the night sky, after a missile blasts a gaping hole in their home. The pic screened at BFI London, São Paulo, Tokyo and Busan. MK2 Films is handling international rights. Has distribution deals in France (Pyramide), China (Stars Collective), and the MENA region (MAD Solutions).

“Our Lady of the Chinese Shop” – Angolan helmer Ery Claver’s debut feature is a bizarre urban tale, that combines a wide range of visual styles, about a Chinese merchant who is selling a strange plastic figurine of the Virgin Mary. The backdrop to the story is China’s growing influence in Luanda. Screened in the BFI London Film Festival and Film Festival Gent.

“The Pit” – Kenyan filmmaker Angela Wanjiku’s directorial debut about an English teacher released from prison who tries to adjust to life outside while confronting his inner nightmares. Screened at Rotterdam and Toronto. Wanjiku studied film at La Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in Havana, Cuba, and has worked as a film editor in Nairobi, where she won best film editor in the 2018 Women in Film Awards.

“Raven Song” (world premiere) – Saudi director Mohamed Al Salman’s debut feature, which has been selected by the Saudi Film Commission to represent Saudi Arabia for the 2023 Academy Awards. Al Salman completed the NYFA one-year filmmaking conservatory program in 2020. “Raven Song” expands on the themes of his previous short films. Thirty-year-old Nasser is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and is due to undergo a dangerous neurosurgery operation when he meets an enigmatic young woman. The pic was produced by Telfaz11.

“A Summer in Boujad” – Moroccan helmer Omar Mouldouira’s debut feature about 13-year-old Karim who leaves Paris for Morocco with his father Messaoud, who has remarried and decided to return to his homeland. A coming-of-age story set in Boujad, a small town in central Morocco. Screened at Cairo Film Festival.

“Within Sand” (world premiere) – Saudi helmer Moe Alatawi’s debut pic about a young man, Snam, who crosses the desert aided by a wolf. It’s one of the first Saudi films to have been shot at the site of NEOM, the new $500 billion sci-fi smart city real estate venture in northwest Saudi Arabia, which includes a vertical city, The Line, a huge floating industrial complex, Oxagon, and a mountain resort, Trojena. This desert location, shot before construction began, offers a vast, lonely, but inspiring wilderness, in which Snam desperately tries to hold on to his sanity.

The 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival runs from Dec. 1-10 in Jeddah, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.

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